As March marks both the 10th anniversary of the Syrian civil war and one year since the launch of Turkey’s Operation Spring Shield that led to a fragile truce in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, a human rights group stated that at least 75 attacks by the Bashar Assad regime and its allies have been recorded since the cease-fire.
“The ceasefire agreement in Idlib in March 2020 was accompanied by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which we believe has had a major impact on the capabilities of the Syrian regime army and the Iranian militias affiliated with it. Thus, this contributed to a decline in bombardment operations against civilians, leading to a decline in civilian casualties,” the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) told Daily Sabah in a written statement regarding the current humanitarian situation in Idlib.
Saying that though airstrikes targeting the province decreased significantly, SNHR pointed out that, “Despite the ceasefire, the ground bombardment carried out by Syrian regime forces and their allies in areas close to the contact lines did not stop, continuing in tandem with the bombing of some areas relatively far from the contact line, such as Ariha city.”
Almost a million people have fled the Assad regime’s offensive on Idlib since December 2019 with many seeking refuge in overcrowded tent camps near the Turkish border. A truce was brokered between Moscow and Ankara in March 2020 in response to the months of fighting by the Russia-backed regime, yet the regime still frequently carries out attacks on civilians, hindering the return of people to their homes and forcing them to stay in makeshift camps.
Still, around 300,000 displaced people have returned home, the SNHR stated, indicating that most returned to areas far from contact lines including the Jabal al-Zawiya region, Ariha city and its suburbs – Binnish, Sarmin, Maarrat Misrin as well as the western suburbs of Aleppo province in general and the suburbs of Jisr al-Shughur and Sahl al-Ghab.
The human rights organization underlined that Idlib’s residents also “suffer from widespread poverty and unemployment due to the high population density and the lack of job opportunities.”
A record 12.4 million Syrians – nearly 60% of the population – are now food insecure, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) recently reported.
Although Turkish institutions, the United Nations and international humanitarian organizations continue their efforts to provide humanitarian aid, there are still thousands more who need urgent assistance from the international community.
Syria's war has killed more than 388,000 people and displaced millions of Syrians inside the country and abroad.
But today, Assad is back in control of more than 60% of the country after a string of Russia-backed victories against the opposition and terrorist elements.
A decade on, Assad looks set to win a new presidential election this summer in regime-held areas.
Idlib, whose 2.9 million inhabitants have been protected by a cease-fire since March 2020, is one of the few key areas still holding out against the Damascus regime.
It was a protest hub in 2011 and it officially came under full opposition control some four years later.
A Russian-backed regime offensive in 2019 saw the Syrian regime retake more than half the province.
“At the humanitarian level, most of the displaced people depend mainly on humanitarian aid which enters through the Bab al Hawa crossing,” SNHR said, stressing that the aid is insufficient considering the massive numbers of displaced people and their disorganized distribution.
“Last year, humanitarian organizations began shifting their orientation toward establishing residential villages to house the displaced people rather than flimsy tents incapable of withstanding the harsh weather conditions, particularly in winter and summer,” SNHR continued but noted that their numbers are still low.
The construction is ongoing in 124 different locations in Idlib and a total of 27,665 houses have been completed so far, 17,553 of which are already inhabited.
For years, the Assad regime has ignored the needs and safety of the Syrian people, only eyeing further gains of territory and crushing the opposition. With this aim, the regime has for years bombed civilian facilities such as schools, hospitals and residential areas, causing the displacement of almost half of the country's population.
Despite the deteriorating situation for civilians, the Assad regime and its backers have stepped up their attacks in the past few days.
At least one civilian was killed and two others injured late Sunday in airstrikes by Russian jets in the region.
The attack, which an opposition plane observatory claimed was carried out by Russia, targeted an area near the M4 highway in the Bab al-Hawa border crossing area between the town of Sarmada in Idlib on the Syrian side and Reyhanlı district of Hatay province in southern Turkey.
Earlier on the same day, Syrian regime artillery fire killed seven civilians including a child when it hit a hospital in Idlib’s Atareb town.
Senior U.N. humanitarian official Mark Cutts described Sunday's attack on the cave hospital as "alarming," while the International Rescue Committee (IRC) also condemned it.
"Health facilities are protected under international law and should be safe havens in times of crisis," said Rehana Zawar, IRC director for northwest Syria.
Medical facilities have been hit multiple times in the Idlib region during the war.
Between 2016 and 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) documented up to 337 attacks on health care sites in Syria's northwest.
Seventy percent of health care workers have fled Syria since the start of the conflict, while after years of bombardment only 58% of hospitals remain fully functional, the U.N. says.